Isn’t it “representation without taxation”?

22 Oct

Some people like to say that allowing emigrants the right to vote would be “representation without taxation” – as if “no representation without taxation” were some well-established democratic principle.

It’s not. The US is the only developed country in the world that taxes its non-resident citizens on income earned abroad – and yet the US is only one of well over 100 countries around the world that allows its expats to vote. Even in the US, there’s no actual connection between paying taxes and being allowed to vote: the requirement is that you file taxes, and you don’t actually pay any taxes to the US until your income is nearly $100,000. So it’s probably a safe assumption that most US expats don’t actually owe any taxes to the US – yet all US citizens  are entitled to vote.

The confusion, of course, arises from the fact that the “No representation without taxation” sounds like “No taxation without representation” – a genuine rallying cry for democracy arising out of the American Revolution. “No representation without taxation” is the opposite – it’s a call to restrict democracy; a demand for a return to pre-Enlightenment era when only men of property could vote. We don’t demand the exchange of taxation for voting rights in any other context: the penniless are as entitled to vote in Ireland as the wealthy, and we don’t exclude net beneficiaries of taxation from voting.

Who else uses the slogan? It’s in common parlance among libertarians in the US and the UK who urge the disenfranchisement of anyone who gets their living from the public purse: politicians, public servants and welfare recipients. This is not good company for anyone who believes in democracy.

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